Legal custody/child support payment/visitation agreements for dummies - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 3 Old 04-19-2010, 05:36 PM - Thread Starter
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It is way past time to get an official legal agreement. DD's dad and his fiance are getting married this July and moving across the country before the next school year starts, where they accepted teaching positions in Phoenix. DD, my husband and myself are staying put in IL for the time being.

I realize everything can vary state by state, but where do I start? How much, approximately, should I expect to spend on a lawyer? Again, I realize this varies, but I am hoping dd's dad and I can come to reasonable agreements in order to not be battling over small details. Will a lawyer take payment plans, because I am broke...but I am still pretty sure I won't qualify for state legal assistance.

I have talked to my ex about upping child support payment (he and I currently just had a verbal agreement, were never married to eachother and mostly have had an amicable relationship,) and he seems agreeable on this. He also likes the idea of getting and maintaining payment on a cell phone for dd so they can communicate without using all my cell phone minutes. I also want to designate full custody for me and visitation for dd's dad, since she will only see him a few times per year. Also want to designate that all transportation costs from here to AZ for dd be paid by him, that if she does start acting out because of this (life has been pretty emotional for dd since this possibility has come up) that he pay for therapy for dd. He is currently paying health insurance for dd, so he either needs to maintain this or compensate financially if she needs to go on our plan. Also want to put something in writing about dd's dad paying for at least half of dd's college....dd currently has a sizable savings account set up by her dad's wealthy great aunt; I guess I just want that in the agreement as well because I am not sure I trust that the money will actually go to her now that the soontobestepmom is in the picture, who has constantly tried to urge dd's father to stop paying child support, cut down on seeing her, etc.

If we can come to reasonable agreements between the two of us is there a way we can avoid using lawyers and write up and file legal agreements that will stand in court should the need arise?

What else should I make sure to include? What should I know about this process? I don't really have any friends who have been through it seems so mysterious and scary to me right now. THANKS very much for any advice, insight you can bring to me in this.

Mama to A born 8/7/99
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#2 of 3 Old 04-20-2010, 06:20 PM
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My ex and I also were not married and wrote up our own terms without going to court. I've been strenuously advised by my family-law-atty father and several of his similarly-employed friends that our agreement would not stand up in court, BUT it has served us well for almost 13 years. The subtle threat of having to go through all the headache of court, if one of us were to wildly deviate from it has been quite enough to keep us both on the straight and narrow, even when we've had angry flare-ups toward each other.

Your ex sounds reasonable. It would certainly save money to write up something together and find out what the process is where you live, for having it certified by the court. Then it would actually be a court order, so you'd both be expected by the court (not just each other) to follow it, unless and until one of you could convince a judge to modify it. Now, if you agreed to terms that were way outside local family law, he might win if he asked to modify those terms later - but he might be deterred from that path by the necessity of taking you back to court!

Be prepared that he may balk or seem defensive about putting things in writing - even things he's already agreed to. The instinctive reaction is to step back and wonder, "Will I regret this later? Is there some loophole I'm not seeing?" Steel yourself to react in a non-threatening way. Instead of, "You *#@+, you're backing out of what you said you'd do for our kid!?" you might try, "Listen, I'm not trying to trick you into anything. Considering the big changes that are coming with your move, I just think it's best that we set out clearly what we've each offered to do and how we plan to tackle things that might reasonably come up. What things are YOU concerned about? Let's discuss those things and put them in writing, too."

In Indiana, I think your process would involve you and your ex both having to appear in court in person, swear to the fact that he's the father of your child and the fact that you both agree to what you've written up. A little intimidating, but not too terrible - and not necessarily something you need an attorney for.

Some lawyers will arrange payment plans. You'll probably have to call around -they don't often advertise that aspect of their practice! The benefit for you is the recession has taken a steep toll on the earnings of family law attorneys, because people can't afford to get divorced. Many lawyers really need work and may be more flexible about what/how you pay them. It would be unusual if they didn't expect some sort of retainer. That could be a few hundred or it could be $1,000. It often depends on how busy they are. When they're swamped it's not worth it to take on extra work without a big financial incentive - they can also afford to "weed out" clients who will have trouble paying, later. But there again, the recession works in your favor, if the attorneys you call aren't swamped. It also works in your favor that your case doesn't sound like it will involve a lot of court battles. Once you and an attorney sign a contract, he has to get the court's permission to dump you, as a client. So he won't want to sign on if he thinks he'll wind up obligated to do $20,000 worth of work for you, but you have no money.

I think every state's child custody and support laws are available for free, online. Just search and read. Many states also have online child support calculators that will estimate what you should expect to receive, based on a variety of criteria. Those things should give you a sense of whether your expectations lie within parameters the court would support, if you had to confront your ex on certain points.

That stinks, about the new wife discouraging your husband's contact with and responsibility for your daughter. I've never understood women who don't prioritize the children of the man they're seeing! What kind of father do you think he'd be to your kid, if he can be convinced to dump the last kid he made!?!? What kind of husband could he possibly be to you, if he isn't devoted to his children?

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#3 of 3 Old 04-20-2010, 11:00 PM
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You could try a collaborative divorce mediator. They can help you figure out what you want in an agreement, iron out any contentious details, and put it into a format that can be filed with the court. They have lawers that they can collaborate with if legal advice is needed.

You can find them at It's a non-profit collaborative. And they do work with people who were never actually married.

As for the financial side of it, I expect that would depend on the mediators, but my guess is that most of them have some sort of payment plan or sliding scale in place. They can seem expensive, but overall the mediators were less expensive than the lawyers for us. Also, the two of you split the cost of the mediator vs. both hiring your own lawyers.

Parenting four little monkeys (11, 8, 6, and 4) with the love of my life. Making it up as I go.
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